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  • Archive for March, 2004

    Mortgages come to Russia

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 30th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Good article about the burgeoning mortgage market in Russia.

    “While the learning curve has been steep, analysts say the post-World War II example of the US – where government-backed credits, loans, and mortgages for GIs transformed the American economy for decades – is a lesson for the Kremlin.

    “It’s a huge effect [on] releasing spending power into the economy,” says Gaige of Ernst & Young. In the past, “the money people needed to buy a house would have been taken out of the economy … and their spending power would have been reduced” before and after the purchase by the effort to collect that money.”

    Wish I could participate. The only thing worse is watching VIP go from 56 to 100 and not holding any shares…

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Views From The Past

    Posted by Jonathan on 30th March 2004 (All posts by )

    I’m feeling kind of blogged out and decided to post something different. I’ve been going through a batch of family photos that no one has looked at in years. It’s like a time capsule. A few of the pictures may be of general interest. I really like the ones below. A relative of mine made them when President Nixon visited Jerusalem in 1974.

    parade route
    Parade route with Monastery of the Cross in background.

    Rehavia street
    I don’t know where this was. It may have been across the street from the prime minister’s residence.

    outside the PM's residence
    Outside the prime minister’s residence.

    Posted in History, Israel, Middle East, Photos | 1 Comment »

    “News Is A Conversation”

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Some journalists get it. More are starting to. Here’s a thoughtful essay by one of them. (And he’s a blogger, though he fails to link to his blog.)

    It is this power and influence that drives mainstream journalists to look at new media types, especially bloggers, and describe them pejoratively as the “vanity press,” “self-important,” or worse. The question, of course, is if bloggers derive their sense of importance from themselves, then from whom does the mainstream press derive theirs? You see, there exists within journalism today a belief that this power and influence of theirs is a right, a guarantee given to them by some higher authority, and therein lies the rub.

    The themes of the essay are second-nature to bloggers, but it’s still nice to see the ideas spread.

    Posted in The Press | Comments Off

    Quote of the day

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 25th March 2004 (All posts by )

    “Wealth is the only thing that can cure poverty. ”

    From Thomas Sowell’s random thoughts article today.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Posted in Photos | 4 Comments »

    PC Brainwashing

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 23rd March 2004 (All posts by )

    Excellent article by Dennis Prager.

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

    Too Much Excitement

    Posted by Jonathan on 21st March 2004 (All posts by )

    Is your life too exciting? Then check out the dullest blog in the world.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    Did Poland Really Waver In Its Support Of The War?

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Apparently not. Moira Breen has the rest of the story.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    If we could only get back into good graces with the French…

    Posted by Andy B on 19th March 2004 (All posts by )

    That great beacon of freedom continues to shine.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Posted in Photos | 10 Comments »

    Our future Euro-Prez?

    Posted by Andy B on 11th March 2004 (All posts by )

    I’m sure you’ve all heard this quote from Kerry, but Tony Blankley has a good piece on it here.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    Proof That We Are Living In The Future

    Posted by Captain Mojo on 10th March 2004 (All posts by )

    What do you get when you mix these three things?

    The Heckler & Koch G36 Assault Rifle
    (currently fielded by the German and Spanish armies)


    The M41-A Pulse Rifle
    (used by Colonial Marines in the movie Aliens)


    The Lazer Tag StarLyte Pro Toy
    (used by me in my 80’s childhood)

    The answer is the Army’s new XM-8 Carbine / Assualt Rifle.StrategyPage says the new rifle is getting good reviews. It currently fires NATO standard 5.56mm rounds, but may be rechambered for the new 6.8mm ammo the Army is considering.

    Now the M-16 / M-4 family looks cool and all, but the XM-8 looks like the guns we were promised for “The Future”, along with all the flying cars, despotic coporate police states, and zero-G brothels. The rest of civilization may be failing us, but at least the military is keeping up its end of things. If only they could get those orbital weapons platforms working, we’d be all set…

    Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments »

    The Curse Of Apple

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th March 2004 (All posts by )

    An acquaintance of mine who is ignorant about computers wanted to buy one and asked for a recommendation. Like an idiot I suggested Apple — it’s supposed to be easy to use, right? Well, he bought one, and the experience has underscored for me the wisdom of not making recommendations based on second-hand information.

    There’s nothing wrong with the computer, it works fine. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to have any ease-of-use advantage over recent Windows machines. And since I’m not an Apple person, my every attempt to help my friend use his computer is accompanied by a lot of time spent researching how to do things that are second nature for me in Windows. And because few people in my circle use Apples, it can be difficult to find someone who can answer a simple question.

    So, for example, my friend receives important emails with Microsoft Office file attachments. He clicks on them and the computer informs him that his trial version of Office for Mac has expired, and would he like to buy a full version for $400? That seems like a high price to read a spreadsheet now and again. It took me a long phone call to Apple, and a long trip to my friend’s place to fiddle with the computer, to determine that he can view these files using the AppleWorks software he already has. (And of course I wasn’t successful in setting the file associations to make AppleWorks the default software for opening Excel files, so my friend has to do the {ctrl + click + menu} thing every time he wants to open an MS-formatted attachment. And I still don’t know how to resize the spreadsheet to make it legible on the screen.) What a nuisance for both of us.

    And I have no choice but to continue to help, if only because I got him into this situation. It’s as if I saved his life and am now responsible for him, except that I am trying to save him mainly from the effects of my own poor judgment.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

    How Libertarian Are You?

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Via AtlanticBlog comes this link to an online test of libertarian purity. It’s not bad as such tests go, though some of the questions are ambiguous (e.g., “Should the Fed be abolished and the monetary base frozen?” — yes and no). I scored about 100, which seems high considering my positions on foreign-affairs and national-defense issues (to the right of Attila the Hun). I speculate that most of the non-blogging-type people I know would score between 10 and 40.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

    What a shame

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 7th March 2004 (All posts by )

    I have been considering moving to Virginia for various reasons, one of which is to get out of California. But it seems Virginia’s state of affairs ain’t much better than California’s…

    Good summary article by Paul Jacob.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    Chicago Destroyed By Comet

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 6th March 2004 (All posts by )

    In 1871, that is.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

    Photo

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th March 2004 (All posts by )

    This is what happens to people who leave rude comments on our blog.

    Posted in Photos | 1 Comment »

    Check Out Ken’s Blog

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th March 2004 (All posts by )

    If you liked Ken’s recent excellent post here on health insurance, you should also take a look at his solo blog. He has some great posts up — such as this one, this one and this one on education.

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

    Injustice

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th March 2004 (All posts by )

    So they convicted Martha Stewart. That’s a shame. The case should never have been brought. We are supposed to believe that a woman who is worth hundreds of millions risked everything to avoid fifty grand in stock losses. It’s simply unbelievable, and it begs the question of what fiduciary duty she had to Imclone shareholders (none). The judge earlier threw out the serious fraud charge, so Stewart was convicted mainly of making false statements to investigators when she was not under oath.

    The prosecutors got lucky here. They had a weak case, were essentially making up law, and the jury bought it. I hope that other prosecutors won’t be emboldened to engage in more of these persecutions.

    One of the likely problems here was the quality of the jurors. What kind of person was so ignorant that he didn’t already know a lot about this highly publicized case before he was called? This is a systematic problem. It’s difficult to find intelligent people who are willing to put their lives on hold during what’s likely to be a long trial.

    I was once called for jury duty and assigned to a notorious criminal case for which everyone expected a lengthy trial. I can tell you that once the prospective jurors learned which case they were on, almost every one of them wanted to be excused. To my relief, I was excused (after waiting two days to be interviewed) because I had a strong opinion about the case. The prospective jurors who had not been excused by the time I left did not strike me as the kinds of people I would want to have on my jury if I were a defendant.

    Yes, jury service is important, but how many able people are willing to take a several-week forced vacation in exchange for fifteen dollars a day? We effectively force jurors to subsidize our legal system, and the more a juror’s time is worth the more he pays to serve. Perhaps it would be better to pay jurors an amount that comes closer to compensating them for their time — if they are intelligent people, maybe $200 a day as a start. It would be expensive, and there are many individuals for whom such an amount wouldn’t be nearly enough, but it might improve the quality of jury decisions, particularly in complex and white-collar cases.

    There is no way, under the current system, for someone like Martha Stewart to be tried by a jury of her peers. Would such a jury, or at least a jury of people who are somewhat sophisticated about business and financial matters, have convicted her? I doubt it. And even if they might have done so, she still deserved better than to have the facts of her case evaluated by people who probably lack significant experience in these areas.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

    More Outsourcing

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 5th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Leave it to a VC guy to make a good point succinct. Excellent article over at Ventureblog about outsourcing. The article is a little old, but good nonetheless.

    “there are two ways to make a car — you can either make it in Detroit or grow it in Iowa. You already know how to make it in Detroit. You get a bunch of iron ore, smelt it into steel, and have an assembly line of robots and workers shape it into a finished vehicle.

    To grow it in Iowa, you plant car seeds in the ground (also known as “wheat”), wait until they sprout, and harvest them. Take the harvest and put it into a big boat marked “to Japan” and let it sail off. A few months later a brand new car comes back.”

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    I owe my health to the Company Store

    Posted by ken on 4th March 2004 (All posts by )

    We are told that, prior to the current enlightened age, one of the ways that evil corporations would rip off their workers was the Company Store. Instead of giving you money, they’d operate a Company Store and give you goods. Problem was, without real money, you couldn’t go to a competing store that might give you a better deal unless you switched jobs. You’d have to put up with whatever inferior, overpriced merchandise they felt like stocking.

    Kind of a bummer, right? It’s a good thing that our Corporate Overlords saw the light and quit that nonsense.

    Or did they?

    The Company Store isn’t gone, it’s just been reduced in scope. Now the Company Store mainly offers health insurance and retirement investments. But, in the areas where the Company Store reigns supreme, the same problems keep cropping up.

    You can’t switch health plans without switching jobs. The insurance company’s customers is your employer, not you. The insurance company doesn’t have any reason to keep you happy (it just has to keep you from getting so unhappy you’ll switch jobs in order to get rid of its policy), and it shows every time you have to deal with it.

    Oddly enough, while its customer service is busy treating you like the non-customer you are, the plan itself winds up paying for things that make no sense whatsoever from an insurance standpoint. This is because a company insurance plan functions partly as a tax-dodge to spend pre-tax dollars on routine maintenance that it would never make sense to buy actual insurance for. If not for tax rules, you would never buy an insurance policy that covers routine checkups you know with absolute certainty that you’re going to get; you know you’re going to end up paying the full cost of the checkups plus a markup for the insurance company.

    Also, since company health plans must offer the same rate to every worker, your company gets hit with the cost differential when it brings in older or less healthy workers. Giving companies a direct financial incentive to engage in age discrimination doesn’t strike me as an especially good idea. Setting things up so that their costs, and their profits, are affected by unhealthy things you do in your off time is also just asking for trouble.

    And, since all policies must cover the same things, you get stuck buying coverages you don’t want, and can’t specify coverages you do want. Lawmakers have also taken to piling on coverages that must be included in all group plans, such as birth control pills (!).

    And, of course, it would be nice if periods of unemployment had no impact on your health insurance other than by way of your ability to pay the premium. Business creation would be more common if getting off of someone else’s payroll didn’t impact your health plan.

    Now we’re told that the only way that we can get employers out of the loop is to bring government into the loop. Apparently, individuals can’t just buy healthcare on their own, someone (either the employer or the government) has to “give” it to them (with their own money, of course).

    This is, of course, nonsense. The standard objections to individual insurance purchases are:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    Nader

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 4th March 2004 (All posts by )

    Good article by Thomas Sowell on Ralph Nader.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Random Musings and Disingenuous Intellectualism

    Posted by Andy B on 3rd March 2004 (All posts by )

    The Journal’s editorial page today has several good letters responding to Karinna Gore Schiff’s diatribe on the candidacy of Ralph Nader. Unfortunately, I can’t link to them, you’ll have to pick up a paper copy, but it’s worth the buck.
    Jesse Jackson once again has made himself prosecutor, judge, and jury. In less than one week, he has apparently been able to ascertain all the facts concerning Haiti and Aristide’s flight, and the Chicago Sun Times has deemed to print them.
    Finally, my friend Andy continues his running summary of the state of the world (as seen through his eyes).

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Blog Comments: Tradeoffs

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 1st March 2004 (All posts by )

    Having comments is great. However, old posts tend to attract annoying spam messages, so once posts are more than about a month old, and no longer appear on the blog’s main page, I usually close them to new comments.

    But a problem with doing this is that once in a while somebody leaves an extraordinary comment on an old post. Some of these comments come months after the original post and are from people who have some connection to the subject of the post.

    See, for example, here, and the last comment here. And check out the last comment on this old post about the Mongolian army, which was made just last night by a Mongolian army reservist who lives in the U.S. These comments got through only because in the first two cases I was not yet in the habit of closing comments on old posts, and in the case of the Mongolian post I hadn’t yet gotten around to closing them for the latest batch. (I have left the Mongolian post open to comments in case anyone wants to respond to Amar.)

    So does anyone know of a better way to handle comments? I hesitate to use the “copy this number” anti-spambot system that other blogs, e.g., Samizdata, use (for an example, see here and scroll down to the “Post a comment” section), because it’s burdensome for users. I thought of closing comments, but also posting a conspicuous message suggesting that commenters email us if a thread is closed, but that’s burdensome too. Another alternative is to leave comments open longer, but also to hack Movable Type so that the editing window displays more than the five most recent comments (Steve does something like this). In that case we would still get spam but it would be easier to find and remove.

    Any other ideas?

    Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »